Inside the Stalin Archives: Discovering the New Russia

inside stalin archives book coverMore than two decades ago, particularly in 1992, Jonathan Brent flew to Russia just to obtain rights in publishing some materials from the Soviet archives. He is now the CEO and executive director of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research then and he was the director of Yale University Press’ Stalin Digital Archive Project. Before flying to Russia in 1992, Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s newly appointed leader, declared the opening of state, secret party, and K.G.B. archives would be opened for publishers and scholars all around the world.

However, it did not quite work as planned. The archives were selectively closed and there were a lot of obstacles for the researchers to face. Vladimir Putin’s reign reimposed the prerogatives and power of the state too much. But despite this, Yale University and Hoover Institution, together with other bodies managed to do what was needed.

Basically, the book was Brent’s memoir which reveals how post-Soviet life and bureaucracy has become so grim. In doing the book, Brent knew a bit of Russian and some contacts but all his intentions were honest. His transactions with Russian editors and researchers were fair enough that they were paid the same with their Western counterparts. He even promised them chances for academic recognition too.

There have been numerous books published through Yeltsin and Putin’s reign. But it was Brent who was among the first ones who stressed that this couldn’t have been possible if not for the work of Russian scholars and archivists.

Right now, we know a lot of details about Stalin. He is fond of musicals and he even tried to compose lyrics on his own. Brent was able to explore Stalin’s personal library and he concludes that Stalin was someone who gave high importance to ideas.

In the book, Aleksanddr Yakovlev also emerged. He was a Columbia University graduate and the Soviet ambassador to Canada. Maybe, he is even the real author of the glasnost and perestroika. Yakovlev was badly wounded was wounded badly in Leninggrad’s Nazi siege. He was one traditional Russian intellectual who had a difficult career in the party until Gorbachev took him to Politburo just to serve as a liberal voice. Even after the fall of Gorbachev, Yakovlev still campaigned for full disclosure of the past of the Soviet.

The book is definitely enlightening, compassionate, and moving. Brent spent nearly 20 years in studying about this. You may find that sometimes, the story revolves on how the papers are accumulated and how they are significant in history and sometimes, it’s about how Russians are hungry, underpaid, and living in poor housing conditions despite being educated. Some motorists turn off their engines during red lights just to save gas. Vendors resort to selling junk, including used toothbrushes just to earn.

Brent thinks that Stalin may have died a long time ago but his legacy is still intact. The book hopes to contribute in debunking the myth that Stalin had nothing to do with the crimes in Russia.

Download a Sample Chapter [PDF]

About the Author

Jonathan BrentJonathan Brent is the editorial director of Yale University Press, where he founded the “Annals of Communism” series. He is the coauthor of Stalin’s Last Crime, and a frequent contributor to the New Criterion, the Observer, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. He teaches at Bard College and lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

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